What if, instead of the distance between Jericho and Jerusalem, the Jericho Road would cover the empty spaces between two Great Plains provincial towns?
What if the “Way of blood”, as they were used to call the road, along which thieves and bandits were waiting in hiding, would drive through cornfields and past silos?
Damien Jurado, for his 13th album, has tried to imagine this transposition. His road to Jericho, more than a dusty and arid trail through the Judean Desert; it is a rough West American Interstate, which drives, as Father John Misty observed, along “abandoned motels, barren highways, magazine killers, Chevrolets backing out of driveways in the middle of the night, wedding photos, intoxicated hands, bleary-eyed circus clowns, barstool salvation.” And the expedient works smoothly.
After 20 years, the songwriter has finally accomplished one of the most arduous tasks a musician can attempt. He has been able to give continuity to his production. Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Son is a step forward along the pathway begun, in 2010, with Saint Bartlett and carried on, two years later, with Maraqopa. A route undertaken with a loyal and skilled companion: Richard Swift from the Shins.
The beaten track of Americana is still definite under the feet of the Seattleite artist, but in this occasion, Jurado moves slightly off-road. Mellow blues laments, daydreaming psychedelia, trails of jazz beats and nifty orchestral arrangements constantly contaminate the folk-rock he plays. In addition, Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Son revives a certain nostalgia towards the 1970s Californian sound, which suddenly arises as trademark of the album.
Instruments, included Jurado’s voice, spout off distortions and echoes all along the 35 minutes of the LP; synths fade the horizon and the classic ballads structures are often muddled with bridges, solos and collisions.
Magic Number, the first chapter of the opera, introduces a moody, overcast landscape in which delicate and noisy breaks alternate themselves. Strings and airy vocals are also crucial in setting the tone: an ethereal, almost hallucinating atmosphere, which is further emphasized shortly after.
Silver Timothy, with its purely visionary sound and its shower of looping synths, drives straight back to Laurel Canyon and its psychedelic-folk. And Return To Maraqopa, despite a more placid, almost gospel nature, perfectly tags itself along.
While the essence of the indie-folk ballad is unequivocally stated in Metallic Cloud: the most suggestive passage of the work. Damien Jurado’s voice is left alone, unadulterated, next to a piano and a dreamful strings section and it is able to give life to a delicate and melodious tune.
The light-heartedly gait is immediately interrupted by Jericho Road, song which sinks into the wide-open Midwestern prairies bursting into a gloomy cry, a creeping wailing. A wailing, which seems to prolong itself in the following Silver Donna, but rapidly sloughs its skin into a falsetto floating on the most eclectic arrangement of the album.
Hypnotic percussions with scents of Afro rhythms, otherworldly electronic effects and a mesmerising bass-line lead to a trance-like status, which recalls the initial Magic Number.
The three consecutive “Silver” songs, reveal, if indeed demonstration is necessary, the absolute song-writing skills of Damien Jurado. Three spacewalking (Silver Malcom), heartfelt (Silver Catherine) and introspectively acoustic (Silver Joy) ballads, which exalt the mellow voice and the guitar arpeggio of the musician.
Before turning off the light, Damien Jurado wants to surprise again. He dusts down his Pet Sound copy and gives life to a lightweight up-tempo tribute to the Beach Boys sound. Sun In Our Mind is not just a fitting title for a lively song, but also an impeccable happy ending to an intense record, full of ideas, memories and references, which has lost its mind for the sounds of the 70’s.
Review by: Marco Canepari
Jericho Road (Live)
Touring UK & Europe Feb / Mar 2014. Details here